There are lots of ways to be smart! We need a range of abilities—analytical, creative, social & emotional, and practical—and the motivation to use them. Yes, we are probably born with tendencies toward particular strengths and thinking styles in these areas, but all of them are affected by what we learn and experience. Parents, this is where you come in!You have the opportunity and responsibility to help your children develop their intelligences so they are well prepared for their adult lives in our increasingly complex world.
There’s no agreed upon definition of intelligence, but we know intuitively that intelligence gets at what it takes to be successful, however it is that each of us judges our success. In the 1980s, researchers in psychology, education, and neuroscience began to think of intelligence in terms of systems or multiple intelligences.
When I became a parent (and realized it’s not as easy as it looks), I created a framework parents can use to keep in mind the basic range of smarts our children need. Drawing on important theories by renowned psychologist Robert Sternberg and others, my framework includes analytical, creative, social & emotional, and practical intelligences. Other researchers have identified more and different intelligences, and we can learn from them too. My purpose is to provide a general framework, easy for parents and other educators to use.
In all of these important areas, you can help your child get smarter:
Analytical Intelligence: Using analytical intelligence can involve evaluating information and arguments and judging their reliability and value. It includes noticing things that just don’t make sense, predicting what might happen next, recognizing when you need to know more, making appropriate inferences, and solving problems.
Creative Intelligence: Creative thinking includes thinking “outside the box” and using your imagination to experiment, create original ideas, and add to other people’s ideas. Creative thinking is flexible thinking—for example, we can think of the number 8 as 15-7 or 4×2 or 24/3.
Social & Emotional Intelligence: Emotional & social intelligence includes the ability and inclination to understand and manage your own feelings, have insight into how others are feeling, and work effectively in groups.
Practical Intelligence: Practical intelligence is important for getting along and feeling successful in particular settings such as school, camp, and summer jobs. We often just pick up practical abilities through personal experience, but we need them to be successful in our work and adult lives.
These four areas of intelligence are interrelated and overlapping. You can be analytical and creative while using your social intelligence, for example. But people do not necessarily develop intelligences in a balanced way. You can surely think of a person who very smart in a traditional way, maybe a straight-A student, who was not able to fit into the social scene or be successful in the world of work. That person has analytical intelligence and underdeveloped social and/or practical intelligence.
We are probably born pre-wired to have particular strengths and weaknesses in these four areas of intelligence. The tendencies we are born with are shaped by our experiences; intelligence is without a doubt an interaction of nature and nurture. Any person can increase their ability in any area, and it is generally easier to learn new things as children when our brains are growing rapidly. That’s one reason the everyday and special experiences we provide our children matter so much. We can, naturally and without overparenting, help them develop their multiple intelligences in a balanced way. By doing so, we are preparing our children for the complexity and change they will experience in their 21st century lives.